So, what’s next?
The terms sheet for the stadium site for Austin’s first major professional sports team has been agreed upon (even though it’s not signed yet), and we know that Austin FC will be the name. Are you feeling “El Tree” or “the Oaks” as an unofficial nickname?
It’s starting to feel real, but there are still several major steps that need to be completed before the Texas capital is officially a member of Major League Soccer.
1. Announcement of a temporary stadium
Assuming Precourt Sports Ventures receives the go-ahead to relocate Columbus Crew SC, Austin FC will need a place to play until its permanent stadium is completed in 2021.
The two locations that make the most sense are Mike A. Myers Stadium at the University of Texas and Dell Diamond in Round Rock.
Asked Monday about the potential of either Myers Stadium or Royal-Memorial Stadium being used for MLS, Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte maintained that there are no discussions ongoing.
“There’s nothing new,” he said. “They’ve got to get all their stuff completely finalized before we enter any negotiations. I hear this, that. I’m worried about the University of Texas. Until they get to a point where I understand what’s taking place, I don’t know. There’s no significant progress made one way or another. Too many unknowns.”
So, that leaves Dell Diamond, where the front office of the Round Rock Express has been speaking with PSV.
“We’ve had preliminary discussions with the Precourt people, but I want to stress how preliminary the talks have been,” Express president Chris Almendarez said. “I think it’s really early. They have things to work out, and we still need to have more internal discussion about whether it’s even possible on our end. We haven’t answered that yet.”
Dell Diamond is no stranger to soccer. The park has held Liga MX friendly matches every year since 2015, and will host its second of 2018 when Chivas de Guadalajara and Tigres play on Oct. 13. Express general manager Tim Jackson said nine teams in the Pacific Coast League host a regular soccer tenant, but none of those are in MLS.
The last MLS team to play in a minor-league baseball stadium was the Kansas City Wizards from 2008-2010. Austin FC would have to work around the Express schedule, not the other way around.
“Our 2019 PCL schedule is already out,” Jackson said. “We know our 70 home dates, so there’s not flexibility on our end.”
PSV representatives declined to comment for this story.
2. Season tickets
The Columbus Crew front office raised some eyebrows last week when it sent an email about season ticket renewals. Despite the stadium vote and brand reveal in Austin, things remain “business as usual” in Ohio.
Yet Crew investor/operator Anthony Precourt has maintained a desire to begin play in Austin next spring, and that will require season ticket information going out sooner rather than later. The updated mls2atx.com website has email addresses where you can inquire about tickets, stadium suites, employment and sponsorships.
Many fans will want to know where the games will be played before handing over their money. For folks in South Austin, for example, there’s a big difference between driving to UT and making the trek to Round Rock on a Wednesday evening. Maybe PSV will offer refundable packages like it has in Columbus.
Merchandise has also been a topic of conversation following the brand release. Austin FC gear isn’t for sale online just yet, but the team’s PR staff has been handing out T-shirts, hats, scarves and bags for free around town at locations publicized on social media.
A lack of corporate support in Columbus is the primary reason Crew investor/operator Anthony Precourt has cited for the move. He’ll want to get that machine whirring as soon as possible in Austin.
Precourt has no fewer than three full-time employees on the ground engaging potential sponsors, but no contracts can be signed until there is officially a team.
The biggest revenue streams for individual MLS clubs are their jersey and stadium sponsorships. Speaking at a private event for Crew season ticket members in February, the team’s president of business operations, Andy Loughnane, said Columbus’ average sponsorships were 42 percent of the league average in 2017.
The Crew’s jersey agreement with Acura is reportedly worth $1.8 million per year, while their stadium naming rights sponsorship with Mapfre Insurance is thought to fetch at least $1 million per season.
For context, when 2019 MLS expansion team FC Cincinnati announced last November that it had landed a jersey deal with Mercy Health — prior to an expansion announcement — Sports Business Daily reported it was worth around $5 million per year. This year’s expansion team, Los Angeles FC, has a three-year jersey and streaming deal with YouTube TV reportedly worth around $18 million.
Whenever those handshakes happen, don’t be surprised if the parties decide to go public.
4. Official MLS announcement
For a move to happen at all, the league office has to give its blessing. Unlike in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, MLS owns its teams and gives investors the rights to operate them.
There’s also the matter of a lawsuit in Ohio, where the attorney general — along with the city of Columbus — is suing to try to keep PSV and MLS from moving the team. The suit hinges on a judge’s interpretation on an untested, unprecedented law passed in 1996 after then-Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell moved his team to Baltimore.
A hearing is set for Sept. 4, and a ruling on PSV/MLS’s motion to dismiss should come after that. Meanwhile, the parties are required to provide status updates to the judge on negotiations toward a settlement.
Either a dismissal of the suit — unlikely at this stage — or a settlement would allow MLS to announce a move without risking legal consequence.
5. Training complex
In addition to a stadium, Austin FC will need a place to train. The terms sheet for the stadium says discussions about a training site will take place before final execution of a contract, and that PSV and the city will work in good faith to identify somewhere suitable.
A spokesman for the city said that those discussions have not yet begun.
Precourt will have to decide if he wants to go through the political process of procuring city-owned land, or if he can afford to buy private land to build a training ground. There’s also the option of land outside city limits.
Scott Placek, the president of the Capital Area Youth Soccer Association, said he has been in touch with PSV officials about more than 200 acres the organization owns along U.S. 290 five miles east of Manor .
“We’re not really asking for money,” Placek said. “The role that we could play is making available to them a large and easily accessible piece of property that they could put their own vision to in building a training complex.”
Several Austin sites were identified in December when the city took inventory of potential land options. In a report completed by the Parks and Recreation department, Walnut Creek Sports Complex (near the intersection of U.S. 290 and U.S. 183), Bolm District Park and the Burger Activity Center were identified as practice field-only possibilities.
6. Temporary training facility
Once a permanent training site is identified, it could take years for it to be developed — meaning that in addition to a temporary stadium, Austin FC will need a temporary training facility.
One option appears to be the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex, a city-owned $27 million facility that opened in 2017 with natural grass and turf fields. It hosts the semi-pro women’s team FC Austin Elite and the new Major League Rugby franchise Austin Elite.
“We’ve had preliminary conversations with Precourt Sports Ventures about a temporary practice facility in Round Rock,” Round Rock sports management and tourism director Chad McKenzie said. “However, no specific location has been identified.”
There is interest from St. Stephen’s Episcopal School.
“We’re eager to help,” St. Stephen’s athletic director Jon McCain said. “The school has a soccer academy, we’re very supportive of the local soccer community. We want to be as supportive as we can.”
St. Stephen’s allows teams from Lonestar Soccer Club to use its facilities, and former United Soccer League franchise Austin Aztex FC practiced at the school before relocating to Orlando in 2010. McCain said the school has had no official contact with PSV.
PSV declined to comment on possible temporary training sites.
Kevin Lyttle and Kirk Bohls contributed to this report.